Grand Challenges Canada, whose mission is to support bold ideas with big impact in global health, today announced the names of 17 researchers who will receive seed money for projects to fight against health problems in developing countries. Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, professor of chemistry at Université de Montréal, is among those who will receive $100,000, which will be used to develop a project to fight HIV-AIDS.
Professor Vallée-Bélisle has been working on developing an inexpensive and easy-to-use measuring device for detecting and tracking HIV infection in less than five minutes. "One of the biggest barriers to treatment and control of HIV transmission in developing countries is lack of large-scale testing for populations and lack of clinics and qualified personnel to perform these tests,” Vallée-Bélisle said. “The development of an easy-to-use diagnostic test for HIV will greatly improve the accessibility of these tests and thereby allow earlier treatment of the virus, thus greatly reducing the risk of transmission.”
The innovation behind the meter designed by Professor Vallée-Bélisle and colleagues is the use of a biomolecular switch, similar to the billions of natural molecular switches found in humans that are the basis of the biochemical mechanisms supporting life. Once fitted on an electrode, this molecular-electronic switch will produce a variation in electric current when activated by the antibodies specifically produced by individuals infected with HIV. “The major advantage of our molecular-electronic switch is that it can operate directly in untreated blood, which provides an almost instant medical diagnosis simply by placing a drop of blood on our device," said Vallée-Bélisle explained. He further outlines his project in this video here: bit.ly/105mCPw.
Seventeen innovative projects were selected from among 60 proposals submitted to the Stars in Global Health program of Grand Challenges Canada, which is funded by the Government of Canada. In total, more than $1.7 million will be paid to innovators across Canada. The Stars in Global Health program looks for bold, creative, and affordable ideas that can be leveraged in the fight against disease—innovations that can also benefit the developing world.
Upon completion of this grant, if their ideas are effective and proven, the innovators will be eligible for an additional Grand Challenges Canada scale-up funding of up to $1 million.
“Canada has a deep pool of talent dedicated to pursuing bold ideas that can have big impact in the developing world,” said Dr. Peter A. Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada. “Grand Challenges Canada is proud to support these extraordinary innovators from across the country because they will make a difference to so many lives.”
“Canada works with our like-minded partners throughout the world to leverage our investments inhealth innovation so they're focused on getting results," said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird."We support Grand Challenges Canada's Stars in Global Health so these innovators can applytheir talents and further efforts to make the world a healthier and safer place.”
Alexis Vallée-Bélisle recently joined the faculty members at the Department of Chemistry after working on the development of biosensors as part of a fellowship in bio-engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara. It is in fact a return to his alma mater for the professor, who has otherwise pursued his entire academic career at Université de Montréal, including a doctorate on protein folding under the supervision of Professor Stephen Michnick of the Department of Chemistry.
Grand Challenges Canada is funded by the Government of Canada through the Development Innovation Fund announced in the 2008 Federal Budget. For information on the grants and to see each Canadian Star's short video explaining the project, visit www.grandchallenges.ca/stars-r3-grantee-announcement-en/ .
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This document is a translation of press release originally issued in French.
Université de Montréal